If We're Back to 'Normal,' Why Am I Still So Exhausted All the Time?
I marked the two-year anniversary of the pandemic the way I do most nights now: waking up with a start and blearily checking my watch. It's 3 a.m., 4, 4:30, if I'm lucky. Eventually, I accept that I'm awake. It's the same thing I was doing two years ago—wake up, grab my phone, start doomscrolling through virus news. I started plugging my phone in across the house, which didn’t work because now I groggily trip over whatever was left in the living room before grabbing my phone and returning to bed to doomscroll. This time it’s not news of the virus, but of the war in Ukraine. I get maybe five hours of sleep most nights.
I'm tired all the time. You're tired. We're all tired. How could living at the junction of the third year of a global pandemic and the threat of World War III be anything but completely, thoroughly, absolutely exhausting?
Nothing stops anymore: not the news, not the virus, and certainly not you. We're all thrust into an unrelenting race to "normal," even if nothing feels remotely normal about it. We're back in the office and back in school. Even the most cautious governors have cast off mask and vax requirements. Don't talk about the under-fives that still don't have a vaccine and their parents who wait, dead-eyed, for it. Don't talk about the millions of immunocompromised in this country who have been left to fend for themselves, yet again. Don't talk about those of us with co-morbidities that could lend to worse outcomes even if we're vaxxed to our eyeballs. Life feels like a comorbidity at this point. Instead, everything's open, everything's maskless, everything's "normal," like it or not.
In a few weeks, one million people will have died from Covid in the United States. Think about that number. It's the World Trade Center towers falling every day for a year. It's more than almost 50 years of murders in the U.S. It's more names than 17 Vietnam War memorials; if we built one to match, the polished black granite wall would stretch more than three-quarters of a mile. It's an impossible number, an inhuman number, a number that should bring deep shame alongside the unending grief.
But we don't grieve as a society, we're barely allowed as individuals. There's no real acknowledgment of the loss, a loss that's still ongoing. Every day a thousand more bodies on an ever-burning pyre.
People are desperate for this to be over, to go back to normal, back to the lives we led 731 days ago, the day before all this happened. My phone is constantly reminding me of those days, pinging me to remember when we were together in crowds, smiling. We had no idea. But there's nothing to go back to, those lives are over. Another thing we can't grieve.
Going back to normal is the wrong direction anyway. We need to move forward, to build new lives, better lives. Lives that address the inequalities laid bare in the pandemic, that pay people doing work we deemed “essential” two years ago wages that reflect it; lives that offer healthcare that doesn’t just address the current emergency but the fact that all of us live on a razor’s edge all the time; lives that give parents the support they desperately need; lives that lift up black and brown people who bore the brunt of the pandemic’s harshest outcomes; lives that feel like they’re worth living, for everyone. It’s possible. I have to believe it’s possible. But that means overcoming vast differences, which feels like a non-starter. There are truckers circling the Washington, D.C. beltway protesting mandates that don't exist. There are organized assaults on school board members, first on masking, now on everyfuckingthing. State legislatures are one-upping each other to see how much hell they can rain upon women seeking abortions and trans kids seeking to be themselves. There are senators and congresspeople who continue to condone an assault on their own workplace because it’s easier than finding a spine. We're split and broken and the "normal" everyone wants to go back to included all of this, too, but more politely, at least sometimes.
And of course, there's the war.
Everything is so broken.
We didn't make it to the two-year mark without a Covid case in our house. Our six-year-old brought it home from school last month, because of course he did. It didn't matter that we'd been careful—as careful as anyone I know—because you can only be so careful if you're sending a child away for six hours in a school that can barely hold it all together, same as you, same as me, same as anyone.
When we told our older son, a teenager, he freaked out. I had to bring him into his room, away from our younger child who was sick and scared. "How can you be so calm about this?" he said, pissed. I told him it was because I had to, because as a parent we have to put on a mask of calm, to show that the situation is under control even if it feels completely out of control.
What I didn't tell him was that if the mask came off, I would never stop screaming.
I sleep in fits and starts now, the worry can overtake me like an undertow, pulling me under, pulling me further out to sea. I get four hours of sleep—five on a good night. That's just how it is now; I accept it. After two full years of this pandemic, I understand that imperfect is all we get most times. But it's been two full years of this pandemic, so I understand something else: even if it's early—even if I wish I could sleep for another two, three hours—at least I've woken up. At least the sun will rise. At least there's another today.
Sometimes, right now, that's all we have.
From: Esquire US